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Mining In North East England

Shallow Seams By The Sea

The North East of England was in the fortunate position of having shallow seams of coal and other minerals such as lead near the coast, which meant that material could be transported in and out by sea. This led to the growth of ports such as Newcastle and to the development of the iron and steel, chemicals, shipbuilding and other industries. Developments in transport also came about as a result of this activity and villages built to house workers often grew into towns and cities.

These links will take you to websites with more information on the region:

Miners on their way to the pithead
baths at Ashington (New Moor) Colliery

Beamish Open Air Museum.

Durham Miner project - this is a record of County Durham's mining history and has details on projects, research, local history, and an image database.

Durham Mining Museum - This site covers mining in the northern part of England - County Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland and the ironstone mines of North Yorkshire.

Tomorrow's history - the regional local studies site for the North East of England.

Northumberland communities - this website contains information on studying the history of the county.

North Pennines Heritage Trust - the trust conserves the historic remains of man's activities in the Northern Pennines and has carried out conservation, restoration and interpretation work at over 15 locations in Cumbria, Northumberland and County Durham.

North Eastern Geological Society.

MLA North East - the regional agency for museums, libraries and archives in the North East.

Coals From Newcastle

The Northumberland-Durham coalfield was one of the earliest mining areas to be worked in the country, because shallow seams near the coast meant that the coal could be be dug and sent out quickly and easily. The Romans extracted coal here and the area was an important source of coal in the 13th and 14th centuries. This allowed ports like Newcastle to expand and led to the growth of other settlements as mining villages were set up for the miners.

London was one of the places which received coal from the area and there are references to shipments of coal being sent to the capital, for example 526 chaldrons of coal from Tyneside to London in 1376 for smiths involved in building Windsor Castle. Before the growth of mining companies the coal from the North East was often sent by monks to London. The coal was often called sea coal because it was washed up from undersea outcrops on the Northumbrian coast. This could explain the name Se-coles Lane in London.

Although the North East of England first became a major coal producing area because the seams were easy to work, improvements in technology meant equipment could be built to go deeper. One example was the High Main seam at Walker Colliery on Tyneside, which became one of the deepest coal mines in the world, thanks to large engine cylinders which helped drain the mine.

These links will take you to websites with more information on the coal industry in the North East:

Blackhall Colliery - information and images.

COSTAR - Coal Mine Sites for Targetted Remediation Research.

Coalmining in the Hebburn area - including details on the testing of the Davey lamp.

Collieries in Northumberland - details and images from the Childrens Employment Commission on Mines in 1842.

Dipton and Burnopfield coal mining - includes sections on the history of coal mining in the area, the South Medomsley mine explosion, and women working in the collieries.

Durham pit villages.

Elemore Colliery - near Sunderland.

Fishburn Colliery.

Horden Colliery - ex-mining village in County Durham.

King Coal - a BBC 'Nation On Film' website.

Langley Park Colliery - near Durham.

Durham Miners' Gala - details of galas from 1871 to the present day.

Mining and quarrying in Heddon.

Mining in the West Durham coal field - from the Tow Law Deerness and District History Society website.

North East England coal industry records - first part of the Tyne & Wear Archives Service guide to North East coal industry records.

North East England coal industry records - second part of the Tyne & Wear Archives Service guide to North East coal industry records. Note that this is a PDF file. It may open automatically if you have software that can read PDFs. If you do not have such software Adobe Reader can be downloaded.

New Hartley mining disaster - information on the 1862 event from the Northumberland & Durham Family History Society website.

Old Rookhope - information on mining in Weardale in the North Pennines, especially at Woodhorn Colliery.

Seaham - pictures and descriptions of Seaham, Dawdon and Vane Tempest Collieries,

Ushaw Colliery.

Wheatley Hill.

Woodhorn - the website for the former Woodhorn Colliery site at Ashington in Northumberland, which is being developed into a visitors centre which will house the county's archives office, a museum and other attractions.

Side Photographic Collection Online - details of films and photographic collections, many of which relate to coalmining communities.

Lead Mining

Another mineral which had been mined since Roman times was lead and the North East became the most important lead mining area in the country. Local coal mining companies and families often got involved in lead mining as well, but one of the most famous lead mining companies was the London Lead Company, which like coal mining companies, built houses and other facilities for its workers. Another important business was the Weardale Lead Mining Company.

The lead mining areas soon had a familiar mixture of chimneys (which took away fumes from the smelting process) and shafts or levels (dug into the ground to follow a vein of lead). The lead ore would be stripped of its waste products, washed and crushed, and then taken to the smelting mill where the lead would be produced as ingots.

By the 19th century competition from other lead mining areas overseas and the fact that the best ore had been worked led to the end of the industry. However, waste products from the lead mining process such as barytes and flurospar are still being extracted from waste tips.

Silver was often found alongside lead. Allenheads, between Stanhope and Alston near the Northumberland-Durham border, was once the largest silver mine in the world (finally closing in 1896).

These links will take you to websites with more information on lead mining in the region:

Lead mining in Weardale - a family history website which explains 'bargains'.

Description of Consett ironworks.

Weardale mining.

Killhope - the North of England Lead Mining Museum.

London Lead Company.

Transport And Industry

It was in the North East in particular where transport systems were put in place to get at the coal, lead and other minerals to move them around. This developed from wooden rails where tubs were drawn by horses to the first railway, the Stockton and Darlington, which opened up the South Durham coalfield in 1825. It carried coal to Stockton-on-Tees on the coast from where it could be shipped out. The amount of coal and lead in the area also meant that industry could develop in the same place and this led to the growth of the iron and steel, chemicals and shipbuilding industries in the North East.

The discovery of ironstone in the area in the 1840s was a major factor in railways coming to the North East coast and North Yorkshire moors.

These links will take you to websites with more information on transport in the North East:

Bowes Railway - originally a colliery railway designed by George Stephenson.

Coal mining and railways.

Other Minerals

It was not only coal which saw the area develop as a great industrial centre. Other minerals such as alum, potash and salt also played their part here and on the Yorkshire coast - and led in effect to the establishment of the chemicals industry on Teesside. Alum was quarried and transported by sea for use in the tanning and woollen industries and in return for coal being sent to London from the North East, urine from London was shipped north for use in the alum industry. Cleveland Potash has one of the deepest mines in Europe at Boulby. Before this site opened as the first commercial alum mine in the country tanners had to rely on alum imported from a mine near Rome in Italy which was owned by the Pope. More information on the links between alum, the Pope and urine can be found on the BBC website.

The sea also helped produce yet more minerals which could be used in the North East and Yorkshire. Jet is a hard black material created from fossilized driftwood laid down in the sea. Because it is light it can be polished and carved to make jewellery or objects.

These links will take you to websites with more information on mining in the region:

Cleveland potash - information on the only potash mine in the UK.

Tom Leonard Mining Museum - the only museum in the UK which tells the story of ironstone mining.

Mineral Extraction Around Staithes.

More images can be seen in our North East image gallery.

sponsored by: The Coal Authority
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